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2014-11-14

“Pastor Steve is preaching a series called ‘Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit.*'” I said.

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow. “What have you thought of it so far?”

“Well,” I said, “Something he said in the very first sermon of the series has really stuck with me.” I could hear it again, see Pastor Steve’s expression, see the words on the power point presentation. But most of all, I could see the words written–in my own handwriting, on my page of notes. “He said that sometimes people are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they don’t think He will show up.”

“Hm. Interesting.” We were quiet for a moment or two. Then,

“Do you think that way sometimes?” He wanted to know.

I nodded. “That’s why it stood out to me.”

Quiet again.

“Sometimes I get afraid that You won’t show up, that You won’t be with me when I need You . . . or even just when I want You.”

“Even though I’ve promised to be with you always?”

I nodded. “Even though You’ve promised,” I said. “And then sometimes I am afraid that when You do show up, You’ll be a different person than I thought I knew. That I won’t recognize You.”

“Or that I won’t be FOR you, right?” He finished the thought I didn’t even realize I’d begun. But it was true. I nodded again. He was silent, and I was silent. The kind of silence that comes from there not really being much to say at the moment. Finally,

“What do I do?” I asked.

“You keep calling Me and watching Me keep My promise,” He said simply.

 

 

 

*[yes, the series title has been taken from a book of the same name: Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit: An Investigation in the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today by Daniel Wallace]

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May 2009

I’m going to go back to
Not being human;
The more human you are
The more easily hurt:
Complexities misunderstood,
Comments misinterpreted,
Soft heart opened up
And then stepped on by
Eager expecting feet—
Some of them your own.

I’m going to go back to
Not being human;
The more human you are
The more easily you hurt:
Slow reflexes miss immediate needs,
Selfishness sucks life from others,
Clumsiness mis-times comments
That tread on others
Creating confusion rather than
Infusing peace.

I’ll build myself a shell
Impervious to the elements,
The same in fair weather
And foul.
I’ll cover my too-
Readable face with hardness
So no stray expression
Will play me or you
False.
I’ll eradicate my needs—
My hunger, my weariness—to
Enable endless service,
Mathematically rule out
Painful Imprecision.
I’ll be the perfect servant.

I’m going to go back to
Not being human.
The more human you are
The less trustworthy.
No more mistakes,
No need to be forgiven.
Finally existing for the
Good of others only:
Utterly useful—
Painlessly disposable.

So, it hit me the other day why I often have a hard time praising God. At least praising Him aloud and to others.

I’m superstitious.

I have this feeling that if I praise Him, if I say that things are going well for me, if I share something I am grateful for, I might lose it. It might disappear. God’s next plan might be to take that away.

I’d cite Job’s example, but really this superstition is not logical. Yes, I reason from it, probably subconsciously for the most part. But that belief itself is not based on logic but on fear, fear of loss.

I’m not alone in this, I know. In the past 10 years, I have gotten to know a bit of Chinese culture, and they have similar superstitions–don’t praise your children to their face because it might cause the spirits to target them. Or something like that. And the Jews have some, too (look at Golde in Fiddler on the Roof). It’s a universal fear, I think. Only it just hit me a couple weeks ago that I tend to feel that way and avoid praising God for what I have lest I be unable to switch from enjoying what He has given me to doing without it. Maybe if I don’t acknowledge the gift, it won’t hurt so badly when it gets taken away.

Superstitious.

I wonder if that’s why God reminds us over and over to praise Him. Perhaps praise frees us from the superstition, helping us to live in the present with joyfulness, helping us daily to face the future with courage.

November 11, 2010

I just figured out tonight why Psalm 103:5 would need to happen.

I was reading the background Lois Lowry gives for her book Number the Stars in her afterword. She spoke of the courage of the Danish resistance fighters who dared to defy the Nazis in so many ways . . . and of the youth of so many of them. One young man she spoke of was only 21 when he was executed by the Nazis. Young, brave, and idealistic, he wrote a letter to is loved ones asking them not to lament the past that has ended but to work for the future they truly longed for (and needed). So young. So brave!

And it hit me that I have grown old at heart. Afraid to risk, afraid of the pain, afraid that all I’ve done and risked in the past was a mere foolish waste after all. All that pain, that fear, that doubt is crippling. Because when you’re young you know that the risks are there but you haven’t experienced them firsthand. And you tell yourself that you are proceeding in spite of the risks when really you are simply throwing yourself out into the fray as though there are no risks. Because for the young, the risks don’t exist. But when you have experienced the risks, you grow up, you become conscious of the cost, and you grow wary.

And before you realize it, you’ve grown old.

Perhaps you become more strategic, but maybe that’s a nice way of saying you play things safer.

And perhaps that’s why we need God to renew our youth like the eagle’s–so we can launch ourselves out again and take the risks as though they aren’t even there. Because in the real world, the world that matters, the risk of loving others is great, the greatest, but it’s the one ideal that is the most important. Because if we are going to act like God does, we are going to have to love like He does–in spite of the risks. And–like those young, brave, Danish resistance fighters–perhaps even because of them.

 

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalm 71:9

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things: so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:5

Where is my discomfort in your love?
What am I afraid of?
Falling.

Moving on
Is that what it is?
Just transitioning to newer pastures,
Leaving the old behind?
How many unconditional gifts,
Full and free and magnanimous,
Have I myself left behind–
Forgotten, untended,
(Like opened boxes of chocolates,
unfinished, inexhaustible)
Left behind as I moved on?
What happens to the gifts?
Do they remain mine–
Standing, as I left them,
Open and waiting?
Or do they move on, too?

Life, like the Sea,
Is fickle, unpredictable.
Some things, like tides and waves,
Can be anticipated; myriads
Of factors influence the rest.
Total preparation is impossible.

This post should, most likely, be some piece of poetry . . . preferably by me and not someone else . . . or so I’ve been told 😉

However, since it’s late at night and I shouldn’t even be up right now, let alone on the computer,
And since I haven’t written any poetry lately,
And since I haven’t gone through old poems in a while to see if there are any new ones to post,
This will have to do,
For now =)

So I had forgotten to add a link to a blog that contains some student writings that are really quite fun: Around the Writer’s Block. Check out the pantoums. And if you want something to sink your teeth into, there are the essays =)

And then there is the blog of the friend who does cakes for a living–you should totally check out the pictures! She’s amazing! Cakes by Suzy is as fun as the name implies =)

Finally there’s the one I found most recently. Meditations for the Liminal is not for everyone, though there was definitely something there for me. It’s primarily for those who have found themselves hurt by those who looked very spiritual and turned out to be modern-day Pharisees (probably because they themselves truly knew nothing of God’s love). It’s for those who are “liminal” as the author explains: those who have found themselves “in between,” so to speak–not easily categorized as “Fundamentalist” but also not willing to deny the things that are fundamental to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have been moved by the way the blog explores Who Jesus is–something that we all find ourselves coming back to again and again as we grow in our Christian lives. Growing closer to God and learning to be more like Christ inevitably leads us to ponder what Christ is really like. =)

So now I am going to conclude this post and head for bed . . . maybe. 😉

(found in one of my journals as I was browsing today)
Monday, February 9, 2004

A beggar at the gate, I come
knocking, waiting, head slumped
On breast, worn out yet work never done.

But yesterday I was maiden fair,
damsel, waiting, eyes searching
For a champion, someone to take my cares.

Now, today, I am a serf,
menial, waiting, knowing
My desserts are found on meaner tables.

So, why do I even bother knocking?

Why are beggars beggars? A lack, a need, even at times, a want. Beggared by circumstance–a wound, a disease, a fire that takes livelihood and all–or beggared by self–inability to keep ourselves afloat, we let go of the dignity of self-reliance and we ask, then we beg.
What do beggars beg for? A crust, a crumb, a bone. Anything to keep themselves alive. Dare they ask for more? A seat at the table? a full plate? Dare I ask–tonight–for sustenance and MORE? I have nothing to pay for it. Idiot that I am, I spent my last doit on other things–some worthless, I suspect. But my meagre salary could never hope to buy a prince’s place at the king’s table. What am I thinking?

When I was at home in California for Thanksgiving this year, I ate a gingerbread cookie at my friends’ house. Mamie showed me pictures of her husband Stephen making them. I was impressed. The cookie was good, too.

Somehow I don’t usually reach for the gingerbread cookies right away when I am hungry for something sweet. Perhaps it has something to do with the stigma of the title “gingerbread man” in my mind: I think of the story of the arrogant little guy who led everyone on a merry chase until he trusted the wrong person and was caught anyway. “Run! Run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” More likely, I just don’t reach for gingerbread because ginger is not my favorite spice (Grandma, on the other hand, would rank gingery cookies among her favorites).

The Gingerbread Man gets me thinking, though: I usually enjoy irony, but the story of the Gingerbread Man has always bothered me a little. At an age when obedience to parents and other adults was stressed, the defiance of the little cookie shocked me (so did Tom Sawyer when I first read his adventures). But inside me I see a little of his desire to do his own thing–who wants to be eaten anyway, even if that was the purpose for which one was made? I never knew with whom to sympathize: the old lady who made him for eating and was so rudely disobeyed and deprived of her treat? or the disobedient cookie who ran out of a sense of gleeful self-preservation and ended up being eaten for his troubles?

I suspect that deep down inside, my disobedience stems from my lack of trust. In my sophomore year of college, the knowledge of God’s sovereignty began to frighten me, especially as the terrible meaning of the fact that He does all things for His own glory began to sink into my soul. God began to seem like the lady who made the Gingerbread Man: He seemed to care about me merely as a means to further His own ends. And, like the main character in the story, I found myself stuck between a God who would consume me for His own glory and a dreaded enemy who would pretend to help me and then devour me mercilessly. We learn early that anyone who is out to get his own glory really does not care about us. A God like that is frightening. How could a God who made us–like gingerbread men–for His own pleasure still have our best interests in mind? Could God’s best interests and our best interests really be one and the same thing? Life usually feels more like a frantic dash away from everything and everyone that would devour us, that would take from us what they want and then fling out the unusable parts of us. And I have found it easy to “fear” God as my Creator and Master, running from Him rather than to Him when I feel the predators of life at my heels. I don’t want to be eaten!

And that’s why Christmas is so important: God did create us for His pleasure, yet He loves us completely, through and through, intimately. He will not devour us, smack His lips, and pat Himself on the back for having made such a delicious cookie. And so He came at Christmas to show us that He wants us for us. A little song from a children’s Christmas musical says it far better than I will ever be able to:

“Close to Him”
by Kathie Hill and Janet McMahan [punctuation and some other mechanics my own]

He wants to be close to His children,
So He’ll become a child–
A helpless little baby,
A Savior meek and mild.
He’ll leave His home in Heaven
To prove His love is real,
And be born as a baby
Just so man can feel

Close to Him, close to Him,
And now all of His children can feel so close to Him.
Close to Him, close to Him,
And now all of His children can feel so close to Him.

He’ll know what it’s like to be lonely
And how it feels to cry,
To love His friends and family
Then have to say goodbye.
This baby in a manger
Will be God’s pure love revealed:
Love living among them
Just so man can feel

Close to Him, close to Him,
And now all of His children can feel so close to Him.
Close to Him, close to Him,
And now all of His children can feel so close to Him.

He came to earth to be like us. He came to earth to show us that He loves us. He came to earth to be closer to us so that we could understand Him better and dare to draw near to Him. Unafraid to be His.

“We love Him because He first loved us.” I John 4:19

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light–
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary–
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But, in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in–
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

~Phillips Brooks
I could almost picture it: the tiny town of Bethlehem asleep that night. All was dark and still, countless snores in the humble buildings that night punctuated the silence. Maybe a dog barked or a wolf howled. There were no cars, no public transportations systems running all night. No street lights kept the town perpetually lit with a dingy glow. No furnaces heated the houses; the sleepers piled the blankets on and settled in for another night like any other. Why should this one be any different? As I listened to the instrumental arrangement by Linda McKechnie of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with a Debussy piece (it’s on one of my favorite CD’s–Hymnworks Christmas), I ran the words through my head, cherishing the stillness.

“The hopes and fears of all the years/ Are met in thee tonight,” arrested my attention. Somehow I had never noticed the combination of those words in that song before. Hope and fear seem so very distantly removed from each other–one is sunshine, the other dismay; one we want, the other we spend our lives running from; one we dream about, the other we feel stuck with. Right? Still, it’s set me to wondering how closely the two are tied.

Thinking about sugar cookies puts it into perspective for me. My grandmothers love to bake cookies, but for me, baking cookies is a daunting task. And no cookies are more fearsome to me than sugar cookies. They take so much work! Rolling out the dough, cutting the shapes, keeping an eye on them in the oven, and finally decorating them–thoughts of the process exhaust me even now (or is it the lateness of the hour at which i type?)! So when my aunt suggested that we make sugar cookies last Christmas, I cringed inwardly. But I do enjoy working at projects and was ready to literally roll up my sleeves and tackle the project. The dough had already been made: all that remained was the task of producing pleasant-looking shapes. I hadn’t made sugar cookies for a very long time, but I had the basic idea, so I dove in. And that’s when I discovered what I had feared: the dough would not cooperate with me. It knew I was more afraid of it than it was of me. Mom came in to see me wrestling with it and took over–first to demonstrate that flour was the answer, then to become part of the assembly line. Eventually the dough was obeying even my commands, and the production was going. My aunt and my sister took charge of the decorating, and soon we had containers of beautiful sugar cookies.

Hope and fear join hands in the process of making sugar cookies. We make them because we hope that they will be fun to make; we hope they will taste good; we hope they will look beautiful; we hope that people will be pleased with them. But we fear at the same time . . . at least, I do. I fear that they will look ugly, that they will taste awful, that no one will like them, and–worst of all–that they will not be worth the trouble it takes to make them! Yes, I am exaggerating a little with that “fear” stuff. But looking at sugar-cookie-making helps me to understand how hopes and fears can be twins.

Basically, every hope is also a fear: we want something, and we are vulnerable to pain if that hope is disappointed. So we live lives of hope and fear. We fear disappointment. We fear loss. We fear rejection. We fear pain. We fear failure. We fear inadequacy. We fear evil. We fear disaster. We fear insignificance. We fear helplessness. We fear the future. We fear uncertainty. We fear destiny. We fear the unknown. We fear . . . we fear . . . we even begin to fear hope sometimes. It’s hard to figure out sometimes which hurts more: the hoping or the fearing. And so we all cope with it in various ways. Every religion must deal with these two things. The religion of Buddhism is built around banishing this fear stuff by banishing hope altogether. Sometimes I try that, too: don’t hope–it hurts too much!

At first this song seems to make an outlandish claim–that all the hopes and fears of the ages could meet in that one town on that one night. But upon examining that claim further, I think I can see how it is true. In coming to God, I come with a multitude of hopes and fears. I hope to be accepted; I fear the rejection I know I deserve (and so does everyone else because we know how much trouble we carry around in our heart of hearts). I hope for success; I fear the failures I carry around with me. The unknown terrifies me: it could bring good, but so often it brings bad. I fear my own helplessness to handle all that life throws my way or I fear a time when I may be helpless. And in facing the God of the universe I can’t help but wonder “will He notice me? will I be valuable to Him?” Put your own fears there, and you will find that every hope and every fear is met at the manger in Bethlehem. The account in Luke tells us that “all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” We wonder, too.

The little town that night housed a tiny infant as human as they come–probably as ugly as any other newborn is. As I come to the manger this Christmas, I wonder with Proclus, a character in “The Star” (an Adventures in Odyssey episode by Focus on the Family), “Are you the Hope of the World, little one?” Could this little child be the hope for ALL my fears? Because I certainly need some hope. I need more than just a set of directions to follow: I need someone who knows how to make the cookies of my life turn out better than I can ever hope to make them by myself. I need Him, Emmanuel–God with us.

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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